A Little Time and a Keyboard: Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area on the Stunning Oregon Coast

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area on the Stunning Oregon Coast

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

My friend Julie Henning over at Roadtrips for Families moved to Oregon earlier this year. Ever since, I have been totally captivated by the raw natural beauty that she has been discovering during her Oregon adventures! This week, I am happy to bring a guest post by Julie about one of her splendid discoveries along the Oregon Coast, Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. If you are starting to plan spring or summer travel, you may want to check this out! Thank you, Julie, for sharing this stunning discovery with us!

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area along the Oregon Coast Featuring a Lighthouse, Tide Pools and more!

One of the best ways to appreciate the magnitude and splendor of the Oregon Coast is to road trip up and down US Route 101. Winding along 363 miles of coastline where the Pacific Ocean meets North America, the route travels between the Columbia River to the old growth forests of Sequoia and Sitka spruce.

Yaquina Head Interpretive Center
Yaquina Head Interpretive Center Image by Julie Henning
Exploring this vast expanse in day trips, our latest adventure brought us to Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area located a few miles north of the town of Newport. Yaquina Head is home to the tallest lighthouse in the state of Oregon and protected tide pools perfect for exploring and observing a wide-variety of marine life.

Yaquina Head Oregon
Looking Down on the Quarry Cove Intertidal Area. Image by Julie Henning.
One of the more prominent headlands in the state (jutting one mile out into the ocean), Yaquina Head was formed when volcanoes erupted in eastern Oregon fourteen million years ago and the lava flowed nearly 300 miles out to sea. Years of erosion and faulting have shaped the “lava delta” visitors experience today.

Points of interest are the Yaquina Head lighthouse, several easy-to-moderate hiking trails, Cobble Beach, and the Quarry Cove Intertidal Area with the Quarry Cove tide pools.

Yaquina Head Interpretive Center Interior
Inside look of the Interpretive Center. Image by Julie Henning
Begin your visit with a stop at the Interpretive Center. You’ll find clean and modern restrooms, a gift shop, hands-on children’s area, small theater, and museum-quality displays on “over 140 years of lighthouse history and thousand years of natural and cultural history.”

Yaquina Head Oregon
Tide Tables. Image by Julie Henning
If visiting the tide pools is of interest to your group, you will need to time your visit with low tide. The Bureau of Land Management publishes a tide pool schedule online and on a board at the Interpretive Center. We visited on a day following a storm, and the coastal surge shortened our two-hour window a bit.

Tides rise and fall in response to the gravitational pull of the moon and sun and the most extreme tides are in late June and late December when the earth is closest to the sun. There are two high tides and two low tides every day. One of these high tides is much higher than the other, and one of the lower low tides is lower than the other. The average of the lowest low tides is set at zero; in tide tables, “plus” or “minus” tides are above or below this zero, not “mean sea level.” ~ from interpretive sign.

We arrived one hour before the beginning of the tidal exploration window and spent that time walking around the lighthouse* and hiking Salal Hill. The views from the top of Salal Hill are expansive and offer sweeping views up and down the coast. If you have younger kids, be aware of the steep drop-offs at the top of the hill.

Salal Hill
Hiking Salal Hill. Image by Julie Henning.
* Lighthouse tours are free, but you need to make an advance reservation inside the Interpretive Center: http://www.blm.gov/or/resources/recreation/yaquina/files/tourinfo.pdf

We then walked down several flights of wooden stairs to Cobble Beach; as the name implies Cobble Beach is the compilation of millions of round basalt rocks that have been smoothed and rounded by the ocean. The sound of the waves sucking the rocks back out to sea is fantastic; the website describes it as an “applause.” We spotted seals darting in the surf (bring binoculars if you have them). You will also want to wear shoes here; don’t even mess around with flip-flops.

Lighthouse and Cobble Beach. Image by Julie Henning.
Finally, the time arrived for us to visit the tide pools at the Quarry Cove Intertidal Area (we moved our vehicle to this parking lot and it was a better walk for the kids). You then walk down the paved trail to the cement platforms overlooking the entire inlet and follow the ramp down to the beach. Flip-flops are okay here, but I’d probably still wear waterproof sandals if you have them.

Yaquina Head Oregon
Tidal Pool Exploration. Image by Julie Henning
The tide was definitely going out when we arrived, but the storm surge was slowing down the progress (be aware of the possibility for sneaker, or rogue, waves--a good rule of thumb is to never turn your back on the ocean). The tide pools are protected and you should have a “look, don’t touch” approach to this visit (climbing into the pools is not allowed).

Depending on the conditions (temperature of the water, time of year, etc.) you may see: “sea stars (starfish), plant-like green anemones, spiny purple sea urchins, mussels, volcano shaped barnacles, turban snails, hermit crabs, and small fish called sculpins.” We spotted a seal bobbing up and down close to shore; you can see his head in this photo.

Seal in the Cove. Image by Julie Henning.
We could have easily stayed by the tide pools for an entire day, but the sun was setting and we had to go. If you have an America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands pass, your visit will be free. Otherwise, plan to purchase a three-day pass for $7.

Happy trails!

Julie Henning is the new owner (but longtime editor) of the family travel website Road Trips for Families. She recently moved to Eugene, Oregon with her husband, three kids, and black lab.

1 comment

  1. I worked for the BLM for years and my very first week my boss took me to all of our district's rec sites. This was one of them. My second day on the job I was eating my lunch of a pb sandwich on the rocks @ Yaquina Head watching the whales pass by. As a NJ girl this was amazing. I had to take pics and text them to all my co workers back home with captions like "So, this is my new job...!!!" .